Does Walking Backwards Have Any Exercise Benefits?

Reverse Your Walk for a Boost in Intensity

Walking Feet
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Does walking backward have exercise benefits? You may have seen claims that going in reverse can give you 10 times the exercise benefit. Is that true or a myth?

If you like to change up your walking routine with some bouts of walking in reverse, you may reap some benefits from added intensity. The boost in intensity is similar to a very brisk walk, hiking, or an easy run. However, you have to take safety precautions when you add backward intervals to your walking workout.

Burn 40 Percent More Calories Walking Backward

The exercise energy expenditure of walking backward was measured and ranked in the Compendium of Physical Activities, along with hundreds of other physical activities. A brisk walk at 3.5 mph earns 4.3 MET (metabolic equivalents) while walking backward at that speed earns 6.0 MET. That's a boost of 40 percent in the calories you expend.

If you walk backward uphill at a 5 percent grade, you almost double your energy expenditure, earning 8.0 MET compared with 4.3 MET for a level walk in the usual forward direction at 3.5 mph. This boost in calories burned can be beneficial and good way to add higher intensity intervals to your walking workout.

Backward walking might be a good way to add higher intensity as you don't have to do it at a high rate of speed. If you're walking with friends, it can be a way to add a little fun and sociability to turn around and walk backward, chatting with them as they continue their usual forward walking.

Backward Walking Increases Heart Rate

A few small studies have shown that walking backward increases the heart rate when compared to walking forward at the same speed. A peer-reviewed study from 2004 concluded that walking backward increased the heart rate by 17 percent to 20 percent. This would suggest that walking backward is a good interval training tactic to add bursts of higher intensity to a walking workout.

But claims that it is 10 times better than forward walking are probably an exaggeration.

More Benefits of Backwards Walking

Walking backward is touted as having many benefits in an opinion paper by Barry T. Bates, B.S.E., Ph.D. and Janet S. Dufek, Ph.D., FACSM. They studied backward walking and running in their laboratory at the University of Oregon. They concluded that it improved cardiovascular function, improved muscle balance, and facilitated neuro-muscular function and balance and proprioception. This paper doesn't appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Tips and Precautions for Backward Walking

Care must be taken when adding backward walking to your walking program. You need to ensure safety by practicing it in an area free of tripping obstacles.

Treadmill: If you are practicing backward walking on a treadmill, start at a very slow speed such as one mile per hour and be ready to hit the emergency stop. As you become more proficient, you can increase the speed and incline. See more ways to include walking and jogging backward on the treadmill and refresh your knowledge of treadmill safety tips. A treadmill can be a good way to add incline to your backward walking and get the exercise benefits of going uphill backward.

Indoor Walking: Find a place you can walk where there are no area rugs, steps, furniture, or pets that can trip you. A hallway or indoor track could be a good choice.

Track Walking: An indoor or outdoor track is a safer choice to reduce tripping hazards. Keep to the same direction as the other track users so you do not run into them.

Outdoor Walking: It can be harder to find a safe area for walking backward outdoors for any length of time, except on a track. It may be wise to walk with a companion who is walking forwards and can alert you to any hazards. You need to be aware of people approaching from the opposite direction, cracks and ridges in sidewalks, curbs, roots, debris, puddles, etc.

Walking Backward with Walking Partners:  If you're walking with a partner or a group of friends, turning around and walking backward while you chat can add a little fun. Your walking partner can help spot any obstacles for you as well.

Adding Intensity to Your Workout

Other ways to add a higher intensity interval to your walking workout include stairs, hills, doing step-ups, and bursts of running or walking at your top speed.

Sources:

Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12.

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